Written by Tura Foster Gillespie
The first thing that comes to my mind when reflecting on my time at UMEIT/NWCU is the overwhelming feeling that I am not alone striving for Christian Unity. Being able to work with the OCUIR and being in the UMEIT workshop, I was reminded of the fact that ecumenism is indeed in our DNA as Methodists, witnessed in John Wesley’s sermon Catholic Spirit. As United Methodists, we are committed to ecumenical and interfaith work—included in our discipline—but we don’t always have it on the forefront of our missions in our churches. Being with other people who understand the call to this ministry as integral to all of our other ministries gave me hope.
I was also reminded, by Rev. Dai Morgan, that “there is a difference between inviting other traditions and being ecumenical” when we choose to do services and other work together. We need to remember to be true partners, not only at the level of OCUIR, but more importantly at the local church and conference levels. We have to invite our friends of other traditions to contribute to, not just appear at, what we seek to be ecumenical or interfaith events. The same way, we have to be ready to contribute, knowing what we as United Methodists have to offer, when asked by others to participate.
Amazingly, I also learned about what we are doing within the United Methodist tradition that I feel I should have already known. Local churches should be more aware of our participation in things like the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund and know that we are working toward closer ties with the Episcopal Church. I thought my church was doing a good job before, but now I know that there are so many more resources that we can tap to do the work we want so desperately to do well!! We don’t need to reinvent the wheel!!
The NWCU workshops I attended were a wonderful reminder of what our denominations are already doing in this country and what we can all do better. Bishop Teresa Snorton reminded all of us that where we are going can be a hard road, but it’s possible to have real interreligious dialogue. She summed it up simply that “love is the answer.” She also reminded us how important it is to acknowledge that we are not all the same, but it’s ok to be different. Focusing on our commonalities is a nice way to get into the dialogue, helping us sit at the same table, but stopping there doesn’t allow us to truly know each other. If there is a barrier, we need to recognize and name it and then learn to love our differences to truly be neighbors to each other.
The discussion on Pastoral Care in Multifaith situations was also enlightening. The faculty and students from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary had wonderful insights, sharing their experiences. They reminded us that we must have multicultural competency to work effectively in pastoral care, especially in hospitals, mental health, and schools. Multifaith competency is an integral part of that. They reiterated that the mission of interfaith work is that it is indeed God’s work, not simply our work. It cannot be shallow evangelism, but rather a deep caring for our neighbor.
The most important plenary of the workshop, though, was the speaker and panel on working with the Millennial Generation. The non-millennials in the room were told that this generation isn’t that much different from young adults of every generation and that really what works with undergraduate students is the feet on the ground work. They tend to ask things like, “What is God like? What does God’s heart break for? What is God up to, and how do we get on board?” As one of the few youngest people in the room, it was refreshing to hear this so eloquently stated. I think dispelling the fear of speaking to younger generations will help the Ecumenical Movement grow by leaps and bounds.